CHESTERTOWN, MD—Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, the featured literary light of this year’s Sophie Kerr Weekend at Washington College, will read from her work Friday, April 1 at 4 p.m. in Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts.
Trethewey is author of Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin), for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, and Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf, 2002), which was named a Notable Book for 2003 by the American Library Association. Her first collection, Domestic Work (Graywolf, 2000), was selected by Rita Dove as the inaugural 1999 Cave Canem Poetry Prize winner, recognized as the best first book by an African American poet. Her fourth book of poetry, Thrall, is scheduled for publication by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in fall 2012.
In an introduction to Domestic Work, Rita Dove wrote that Trethewey “eschews the Polaroid instant, choosing to render the unsuspecting yearnings and tremulous hopes that accompany our most private thoughts—reclaiming for us that interior life where the true self flourishes and to which we return, in solitary reverie, for strength." Other poets have described her work as “nearly flawless,” and “a rare, beautiful gift to the reader.”
A native of Gulfport, Mississippi, Trethewey often writes about family history and growing up biracial in the American South. Her parents’ interracial marriage—she an African American native of Mississippi and he a white Canadian—was illegal in 20 states at the time. They eventually divorced and Trethewey’s mother remarried, to the man who would murder her.
Trethewey, who was 18 when her stepfather killed her mother, shared with radio interviewer Terry Gross the strange coincidence that, “Ten days shy of my mother’s 41st birthday, she was murdered. And ten days shy of my 41st birthday, I won the Pulitzer. I was very mindful of that strange coincidence—that at this point in both of our lives, this is what we had come to.” Her reflections on her mother’s life are part of Native Guard. She later chronicled childhood memories along with her family’s efforts to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Katrina in a 2010 book of creative non-fiction titled Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Georgia Press).
Currently a professor of English and the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry at Emory University, Trethewey has been published in several volumes of Best American Poetry, and in journals such as Agni, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and The Southern Review.
Among her many honors, Trethewey has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, she will soon be inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.
Trethewey’s reading kicks off the annual Sophie Kerr Weekend, which brings high school writers to the Washington College campus for a taste of its literary life with workshops, lectures and related arts events. The weekend also celebrates the legacy of the late Sophie Kerr, a writer from Denton, Md., whose generosity has done so much to enrich Washington College’s literary culture. When she died in 1965, Kerr left the bulk of her estate to the College, specifying that one half of the income from her bequest be awarded every year to the senior showing the most “ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor” and the other half be used to bring visiting writers to campus, to fund scholarships and to help defray the costs of student publications.
For more information, visit http://english.washcoll.edu.